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Los Angeles and the American Dream

08 Dec 2016Other Essays

Los Angeles and the American Dream: transformation and reinvention

The modern Los Angeles is a specimen of culturally and racially perse metropolis, where the ambitions for financial stability are nurtured in the west and inhibited in the east. The present paper argues that both the topography and the nature of the American Dream has substantially changed over the last century, given that the pre-1960 immigrants tend to move to more prestigious communities and undergo ideological assimilation into the more influential groups appear replaced by newcomers whose American Dream is reduced to the achievement of the desirable quality of life. At the same time, the general framework of the Dream-management remains dominated by the followers of the white “dogma” at the level of social policy, which prescribes minimal government interference with economic inequality.

In the present day, the abstractive “urban” has become the major worldview-shaper, given that this term is associated mainly with new employment opportunities, like those African Americans were seeking when moving to the industrial areas to fill workplaces of factory workers in the first two decades of the 20th century (Fulton, 2001, p.6). In her novel “Southland” Revoyr sheds light onto the racial tensions, which actually take place when two ethnic groups coexisting in the adjacent quarters evolve in distinct directions and with drastically differing speed and effectiveness. East Asians, namely Japanese immigrant groups, were composed of external migrants (as opposed to African Americans and Latinos wandering around the country), who had the definite goals of small business ownership and in the United States: “But instead of averting his eyes and scurrying as the other men had done, he bent over, picked up a dung cake, and threw it right back “ (Revoyr, 2003, p.93).

Furthermore, given that Los Angeles of the first part of the 20th century was a relatively small city (Hise, p.547), centralization was a vital matter of public concerns, as the industries, situated in the downtown and owned by the racial majority, required cheap workforce (Gottlieb, 2007, p. 254). At that time, most foreigners were lured to the city by the “white” pattern of lifestyle, which included allegedly high productivity of the effort invested (high profits of enterprises), affordable housing, education facilities and the seemingly lenient classism.

Those more naïve believed it was easy to become affluent in Los Angeles soon and viewed success as the matter of good luck and circumstances. In his comprehensive research, Fulton recognizes this illusion of spontaneity and points to the actual organization of power, where all decisions were pre-planned and carefully developed through covert political negotiations on different issues like rent control in Santa Monica, road construction, taxation and property distribution (Fulton, 2001, p.9).

Furthermore, as the racial majority was dissatisfied with the growth of criminality rates, associated with the clash of multiple cultures, the so-called urban sprawl was introduced in the 1930s: “Mexicans quiescently fading away, like the “old dilapidated landmarks”, the adobe structure of Sonoratown. It is a trope both cultural and spatial” (Hise, p.547).

The atmosphere in the above specified community was not conductive for social advancement, given the underdevelopment of the local infrastructure and the original criminality prejudice against the inpiduals of Mexican descent. As a result, the 1930s-1940s were marked with scandalous trials and executions of the local “chicanos”. “A related coordinate can be observed in the common use of “east” as a referent for the low” (Hise, p.550). In fact, poverty has been cultivated in the Latino neighborhoods until the present day, with regard to the initial topographic social distance from the privileged group.

East Asians, as the readings show, were similarly oppressed group (Revoyr, 2003, p.98; Dear et al, 1996, p. 8). After the Pearl Harbor attacks, Japanese Americans were practically deprived of their property and located in the concentration camps (internment), where they needed to re-build their lives from the very beginning in the 1950s. Chinese immigrants, however, voluntarily segregated in Chinatown in the 19th century and managed to resist the efforts, based upon the social distance increase. Given that the roots of their experience of cross-racial relations could be traced back to the 1850s, they were capable of arranging the parallel infrastructure progress; whereas the white-privilege policy implied transportation networks improvement and technological innovation exceptionally in several Western topographic areas (Fulton, 2001, p.29).

Nina Revoyr, who skillfully portrays the major distinctive features of East Asian mentality, alleges that this complex of ethnic groups is characterized by concrete goal-orientation and patience, i.e. ability to wait and bear economic disadvantage for the future benefits. As a result, Chinatown, San Gabriel and Gardena, predominantly Japanese community, have been substantially adjusted to the American Dream pattern. In fact, most Asians, even those who moved to the wealthiest white suburbs on the West, avoided all-inclusive acculturation and preserved the key features of their lifestyle like clan households, age-based authority and close ties between generations.

Mexican immigrants, on the contrary, followed a distinct residential pattern, which involves the emphasis upon moving into a more affluent environment instead of facilitating the institutional and economic progress within their original community, as East Asians have been doing (Dear et al, 1996, p. 82). However, Revoyr depicts a entirely Americanized Japanese (with Western-styled names) and extremely “authentic” Latinos, but a more comprehensive and broader research provides different information (Sanchez, p.647).

The route of Latinos’ journey was often complicated, as they might have left the peer neighborhood for a basically Jew community like Boyle Heights, where the two cultural dimensions necessarily diffused, and migrated to an upper middle class region in the subsequent generation given their overall poor access to education and human service facilities. Therefore, each inpidual member of this ethnic group experienced several dramatic identity transformations in their life, but gradually abandoned the “cognitive matrix” of the mother culture.

Similarly, African Americans have been long struggling against their inferiority label, but the notable progress occurred only in the 1970s: “The city had recently experienced a highly charged and pisive mayoral election that pitted a popular African American candidate, City Council member Tom Bradley, against Sam Yorty […]” (Gottlieb, 2007, p.6). However, it was too early to recognize triumph, as Dear’s counterargument shows that the specified tendency was associated with the de-industrialization and the departure of white Americans from the downtown to the suburbs, so African Americans settled and gained control over the already polluted center.

They had been prevented from penetrating the realm of the white lifestyle that more financially secure African Americans were even more willing to dissolve their “working-class” identity within the white; at the same time, the emergence of the Black Power concept and movement, initiated by Malcolm X, attracted those inpiduals of color who were not covered by social care systems (Dear et al, 1996, p.85). violent efforts in 1965 and 1992 brought no improvement beyond the surprising crystallization of identity and racial pride amongst the lower-class African Americans.

According to Fulton, all public policies were either directly or indirectly safeguarding and “conserving” the interests of the racial majority, e.g., outsourcing and removal of the major manufactures was closely followed by the seizure of the most convenient spots: “Rents doubled and tripled, and in many cases tenants were simply pushed out the door to make way for new buildings and condominums” (Fulton, 2001, p.30). Thus, the new wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe and other countries is dealing virtually the same obstacles of separation (Vincent, 2008, A1) in the neighborhoods left by their predecessors for the higher economic stage.

As Kneale observes, secondary worlds are necessarily created in fiction literature. The scholar identifies three forms of representation: “writing that claims to represent the world objectively; writing that represents the world of fiction, but in a realistic way […]; and writing that represents a coherent world, but one that cannot claim to be realistic “ (Kneale, 2003, p. 40). Another valuable idea expressed is the recognition of the fact that fiction writers tend to construct textual landscapes and textual geographies through the lens of different cultural ideologies; as one can understand, the emotional attitude and the focus on the point of view in Revoyr’s book can not serve as a substantial basis for scientific research, as the author does not position her writing as historically precise and representative or applicable to the real-life settings.

At the same time, Fulton, Gottlieb and Dear et al as urban sociologists operate figures and reveal the information deriving from archival documents and chronicles. Fiction novels definitely need a well-developed illusory dimension, which is depicted in the “here and now settings” and contrasted to a more plausible world. However, scientists might also provide biased reports due to the fact that absolute objectivity is not attainable.

To sum up, the major problem lies in the fact that even when race-based inequality is gradually vanishing, self-made members of Hispanic and African American minority groups (who often enter political circles and become the administration members) have a tendency to adopting the white ideology declaring the government’s minimal intervention into social and infrastructural problems and neglecting the striking concentration of public policy effort on meeting the majority’s interests. Although the modern newcomers live in more comfortable conditions, they are struggling with the time-honored obstacles in the identically segregated territorial units, whereas the positive changes can be identified in the fixed collectivist communities like Gardena, where migrant adaptation is approached from multiple sides.

Works cited

  • Revoyr, N. Southland. Akashic Books, 2003.
  • Fulton, W. The Reluctant Metropolis. JHU Press, 2001.
  • Gottlieb, R. Reinventing Los Angeles. MIT Press, 2007.
  • Dear, M., Schockman, E. and Hise, G. Rethinking Los Angeles. Sage Publication, Inc, 1996.
  • Kneale, James, “Secondary worlds: reading novels as geographical research”. In Alison Blunt (ed), Cultural Geography in Practice. New York and London: Arnold Publishers, 2003, pp.39-51.
  • Vincent, R. “Eastside now the hot spot”. Los Angeles Times, 11 January 2008, A1.
  • Sanchez, G. “ “What’s Good for Boyle Heights Is Good for the Jews” : Creating multiculturalism on the Eastside during the 1950s”. American Quarterly, pp. 633-661.
  • Hise, G. “Race and Social Distance in Los Angeles”. American Quarterly, pp. 545-558.

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